“… is being held captive by (zero article) American professor Robert Langdon.” (“Origin”)

“According to the Russian writer Leo Tolstoy...” (“Objective IELTS Advanced”).

“ (zero article) Madrid palace PR coordinator Monica Matin…” (“Origin”)

”And to the incomparable Heide Lange – tireless champion of … “ (“The Da Vinci Code”)

I just fail to see the pattern with the use of the definite article here! After all, aren’t we talking about unique persons in all of the aforementioned examples?

  • 1
    What is the context of the "Origin" sentences? Usually the article is there, but in news (either headlines or when spoken by newscasters) the article is often dropped. Commented Oct 27, 2018 at 20:22

1 Answer 1


These differences are to do with what the writer is assuming about the knowledge and attitude of the reader.

So, the writer thought that "being held captive by Robert Langton" would be likely to evoke in the reader's mind the question "Robert who?". To avoid that risk, the writer helpfully inserted the words "American professor" so that the reader can inwardly say "Oh, that Robert Langton". You will find many examples of this usage in journalism. I doubt that it is used much otherwise.

In the second case, the writer wants to save the reader the embarrassment of not knowing who Leo Tolstoy was. The definite article signifies that Tolstoy is an important person, so the reader who has never heard of him can think "OK this is about some famous guy. I ought to have known about him." This usage needs to be quite finely judged. It would be very odd to write for an English-speaking readership about "the English playwright William Shakespeare" because it would be assumed that he needs no introduction. Probably for a Russian-speaking readership you would not have to explain that Tolstoy was a writer.

The third example uses the definite article as a kind of title. "The Queen, The Leader, the megastar." That usage tells the reader that the writer thinks that the person referred to must be respected.

  • Well, there are no article in the third example, and what about the fourth?
    – Zak
    Commented Oct 28, 2018 at 19:30
  • One and three are the same case. I am sorry that I overlooked that in my comment.
    – JeremyC
    Commented Oct 28, 2018 at 22:29

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